Theatre columbus borkman adaptation - act three

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MRS. BORKMAN's drawing room. The lamp is still burning on the table beside the sofa in front. The garden-room at the back is quite dark.

MRS. BORKMAN, with the shawl still over her head, enters, in violent agitation, by the hall door, goes up to the window, draws the curtain a little aside, and looks out; then she seats herself beside the stove, but immediately springs up again, goes to the bell-pull and rings. Stands beside the sofa, and waits a moment. No one comes. Then she rings again, this time more violently.

THE MAID presently enters from the hall. She looks sleepy and out of temper, and appears to have dressed in great haste.

scene 13

GUNHILD: (Impatiently.) Where've you been, Malena? I rang twice.

THE MAID: Yes, ma'am, I heard you.

GUNHILD: Well, why didn't you come then?

THE MAID: (Sulkily.) I had to throw something on first, didn't I?

GUNHILD: And now can dress yourself properly and go fetch my son.

THE MAID: (Looking at her in astonishment.) Me--fetch Mr. Erhart?

GUNHILD: Yes; tell him to come home at once; I want to speak to him.

THE MAID: (Grumbling.) Then I'll have to wake the coachman.


THE MAID: To harness the sleigh. It's been an awful snowstorm tonight.

GUNHILD: Oh, never mind that. Hurry up and go. It's just down the road.

THE MAID: No, ma'am, it isn't. It's not just down the road!

GUNHILD: Of course it is. Don't you know where Mr. Hinkel lives?

THE MAID: (With malice.) Oh! Is that where Mr. Erhart is tonight?

GUNHILD: (Taken aback.) Where else would he be?

THE MAID: (With a slight smile.) Well, I just thought he'd be where he usually is.

GUNHILD: Where do you mean?

THE MAID: Mrs. Wilton's, or whatever her name is.

GUNHILD: Mrs. Wilton's? He isn't there that often.

THE MAID: (Half muttering.) I've heard he's there every day.

GUNHILD: That's just gossip, Malena. Now go straight to Mr. Hinkel's and make sure you find him.

THE MAID: (With a toss of her head.) Alright, I'm going.

(She is on the point of going out by the hall, but just at that moment the hall door is opened, and ELLA RENTHEIM and BORKMAN appear on the threshold.

GUNHILD: (Staggers a step backwards.) What's this?

THE MAID: (Terrified, instinctively folding her hands.) Oh my God!

GUNHILD: (Whispers to THE MAID.) Tell him to come as quick as he can.

THE MAID: (Softly.) Yes, ma'am.

(ELLA RENTHEIM and, after her, BORKMAN enter the room. THE MAID sidles behind them to the door, goes out, and closes it after her.

scene 14

GUNHILD: (Having recovered her self-control, turns to ELLA.) What does he want down here?

ELLA: He wants to reach an understanding with you, Gunhild.

GUNHILD: He's never tried that before.

ELLA: He is going to, tonight.

GUNHILD: The last time we faced each other--in Court--I was summoned to explain----

BORKMAN: (Approaching.) Tonight I'll be the one explaining.

GUNHILD: (Looking at him.) You?

BORKMAN: But not about my offence. The whole world knows of that.

GUNHILD: (With a bitter sigh.) Yes, that's true; the whole world knows of that.

BORKMAN: But what they don't understand is why I did it; why I had to do it. People don't understand that I had to, because I was myself--John Gabriel Borkman--myself, and no one else. That's what I want you to understand.

GUNHILD: (Shaking her head.) It's no use explaining what motives or impulses drove you to it. That won't acquit you.

BORKMAN: It can in my own eyes.

GUNHILD: (With a gesture of repulsion.) Oh, forget it! I've brooded long enough over this business of yours.

BORKMAN: So have I. Five endless years in my cell gave me time for that. And the eight years up there, I've had still more time. I've re-tried the whole case in my mind; reopened the proceedings again and again. I've been my own accuser, my own defender, and my own judge. And more impartially than anyone else could be--I bet. I've paced that floor up there, turning every one of my actions over in my mind. I've examined them inside-out and upside-down and as remorselessly as any lawyer. And the verdict I reach is always the same: the only one I've wronged is myself.

GUNHILD: And what about me? What about your son?

BORKMAN: I include you both when I say myself.

GUNHILD: What about the hundreds of others--the people they say you've ruined?

BORKMAN: (More vehemently.) I had power in my hands! And relentless ambition driving me on. All those millions, lying there imprisoned, buried deep in the mountains, kept crying out to me! To be set free. And no one else heard --I was the only one.

GUNHILD: Yes, and you branded the Borkman name forever.

BORKMAN: Who knows if the others had had the power, whether they wouldn't have acted exactly as I did?

GUNHILD: No one--no one but you would've done it!

BORKMAN: Maybe not. But only because they lack my talent. And if they had done it, they couldn't have done it with my vision. The case would have been quite different.{%%} In short, I've acquitted myself.

ELLA: Can you say that so certainly, Borkman?

BORKMAN: (Nodding.) Acquitted myself on that point, yes. But then comes the terrible, crushing self-accusation.

GUNHILD: What's that?

BORKMAN: I've hidden myself up there and wasted eight precious years of my life! The day I was released, I should have stepped straight back out into the real world--into the iron-hard, dreamless world of reality! I should have started at the bottom and worked myself to the heights again--higher than ever before--in spite of all that had happened.

GUNHILD: Oh, it would have been the same life all over again--believe me.

BORKMAN: (Shakes his head, and looks at her with a sententious air.) Nothing new ever happens. And what has happened never repeats itself either. It's the eye that transforms the action. The newborn eye transforms the old action. (Breaking off.) But you wouldn't understand.

GUNHILD: (Curtly.) No, I don't understand.

BORKMAN: Yes, that's exactly my curse--I've never found understanding in anyone.

ELLA: (Looking at him.) Never, John Gabriel?

BORKMAN: With one exception--perhaps. Long, long ago, back when I didn't think I needed it. Since then, no one. No one by my side, no one vigilant enough to anticipate my needs. Encouraging me, rousing me like a morning bell. To inspire me to renewed success. And no one, either, to reassure me that I've done nothing that couldn't be put right.

GUNHILD: (With a scornful laugh.) So you still need someone reassuring you after all?

BORKMAN: (With increasing indignation.) Yes, when the whole world hisses in unison that I'm a beaten man,(that I'm as good as dead) there are times when I almost believe it myself. (Raising his head.) But then my innermost being, my spirit, rises triumphant and that acquits me! (But then my inner conviction asserts itself and that acquits me!)

GUNHILD: (Looking harshly at him.) Why did you never come and ask me for this understanding, as you call it.

BORKMAN: Would it have been any use...if I'd come to you?

GUNHILD: (With a gesture of repulsion.) You have never loved anything outside yourself; isn't that's the truth of it.

BORKMAN: (Proudly.) I've loved power.

GUNHILD: Yes, power!

BORKMAN: The power to create happiness in everwidening circles around me!

GUNHILD: You once had the power to make me happy. Did you ever use it?

BORKMAN: (Without looking at her.) Casualties are usually unavoidable in a shipwreck.

GUNHILD: And your son! Did you use your powers, did you live and labour to make him happy?

BORKMAN: I don't know him.

GUNHILD: No, that's true. You don't even know him.

BORKMAN: (Harshly.) You--his own mother--took care of that!

GUNHILD: (Looking at him with a lofty air.) Oh, you have no idea what I've taken care of!


GUNHILD: Yes, on my own.

BORKMAN: Then tell me.

GUNHILD: I've taken care of your posthumous reputation.

BORKMAN: (With a short dry laugh.) My posthumous reputation? That sounds as if I were already dead, doesn't it...

GUNHILD: (With emphasis.) And so you are.

ELLA: Gunhild--

BORKMAN: (Slowly.) Yes, maybe you're right. (Firing up.) But no, no! Not yet! I've come close--so close to it. But now I'm awake. I've come back to myself. And a new life lies ahead. I can see it pulsating, waiting for me. And you'll see it too.

GUNHILD: (Raising her hand.) Never dream of life again! Rest in peace where you lie. (Lie quiet where you are.)

ELLA: (Shocked.) Gunhild, how can you -- !

GUNHILD: (Not listening to her.) I'll raise a monument over your grave.

BORKMAN: A memorial to shame, I suppose?

GUNHILD: It won't be a marker of metal or stone. And no one will be able to carve any words of contempt on the monument that I'll put in. No, there will be an inpenetrable clump of trees and bushes, thick, thick around your buried life...a living hedge to hide all the darkness that has been. All remembrance of John Gabriel Borkman will vanish into oblivion.

BORKMAN: (Hoarsely and cuttingly.) And this will be your labour of love, will it?

GUNHILD: No, not by myself. I don't have the strength. But I have a helper; someone who will dedicate his life to this one thing. His life will shine so brightly, so pure and exalted that your own grubbing in the dark will be wiped from this earth!

BORKMAN: (Darkly and threateningly.) If you mean Erhart, then say so.

GUNHILD: (Looking him straight in the eyes.) Yes, it is Erhart; my son; whom you are ready to cast off to atone for your own failings.

BORKMAN: (With a look towards ELLA.) To atone for my greatest sin.

GUNHILD: (Repelling the idea.) A sin only against a stranger. Remember the sin against me! (Looking at them both.) But he will not do what you want! When I cry out to him in my need, he will come to me! Because it's me he wants to be with! With me, and nobody else. (Suddenly listens, and cries.) I hear him! He is here, he is here! Erhart!

(ERHART BORKMAN hastily tears open the hall door, and enters the room. He is wearing an overcoat and has his hat on.

scene 15

ERHART: (Pale and anxious.) Mother! What in God's name----! (Seeing BORKMAN, who is standing beside the doorway leading into the garden-room, he starts and takes off his hat. After a moment's silence, he asks:) What do you want with me, mother? What's happened?

GUNHILD: (Stretching her arms towards him.) I wanted to see you, Erhart! I want to have you with me, always!

ERHART: (Stammering.) Have me----? Always? What do you mean?

GUNHILD: I want you with me, that's what I'm saying! Because there's someone trying to take you away from me!

ERHART: (Recoiling a step.) Ah--so you know?

GUNHILD: Yes. And you know, too?

ERHART: (Surprised, looking at her.) Do _I_ know...? Yes, of course.

GUNHILD: So, you have planned it all out! Behind my back! Erhart!

ERHART: (Quickly.) Mother, tell me what it is you know!

GUNHILD: I know everything. I know that your aunt has come here to take you away from me.

ERHART: Aunt Ella!

ELLA: Erhart, listen to me a for a moment, please!

GUNHILD: (Continuing.) She wants me to give you to her. She wants to take your mother's place, Erhart! She wants you to be her son--not mine. She wants you to inherit everything; to renounce your name and take her name instead!

ERHART: Aunt Ella, is all this true?

ELLA: Yes, it's true.

ERHART: I didn't know any of this till now.

ELLA: (Looking beseechingly at him.) Erhart, I can't lose you. You have to know - that I'm a lonely-- dying woman.

ERHART: Dying----?

ELLA: Yes, dying. Will you stay with me to the end? Tie yourself to me completely, like you were my own child----?

GUNHILD: (Interrupting.) And abandon your mother, and maybe even your life's mission as well? Do you want that, Erhart?

ELLA: I'm condemned to die, Erhart. What is your answer?

ERHART: (Warmly, with emotion.) Aunt Ella, you've been so good to me. You gave me as happy a childhood as any boy could know----

GUNHILD: Erhart, Erhart!

ELLA: Oh, I'm so blessed that you can still say that!

ERHART: But I cannot sacrifice myself to you now. I simply can't leave everything and be like a son to you now.

GUNHILD: I knew it! You won't get him! You won't get him, Ella!

ELLA: (Sadly.) I see it. You have won him back.

GUNHILD: Yes, he's mine, and mine he'll stay! It's true, isn't it Erhart dear; we still have a long way to go together, don't we?

ERHART: (Struggling with himself.) Mother, I may as well tell you the truth (right now)----

GUNHILD: (Eagerly.) What?

ERHART: It's only a short distance more we'll be going together, you and I.

GUNHILD: (Stands as though thunderstruck.) What does that mean?

ERHART: (Plucking up spirit.) My God, mother - I'm young! The air in this room - I feel it's going to suffocate me completely.

GUNHILD: Here--with me?

ERHART: Yes, here with you, mother.

ELLA: Then come with me, Erhart!

ERHART: Oh, Aunt Ella, it's no better with you. It would be different, but not better--no better for me. It's roses and lavender; but it's the same stale, indoor air--just like here.

GUNHILD: (Shaken, but having recovered her composure with an effort.) The air here is stale?

ERHART: (In growing impatience.) I don't know how else to say it. All this morbid attention and--idolotry, or whatever it is---- I can't take it anymore!

GUNHILD: (Looking at him with deep solemnity.) Have you forgotten what you've dedicated your life to, Erhart?

ERHART: (With an outburst.) You mean what _you_ have dedicated it to. You, mother, you have been my will. I've never been allowed a will of my own. But no more. I'm young; you've got to remember that, mother. (With a polite, considerate glance towards BORKMAN.) I can't dedicate my life to atone for someone else**--Whoever they might be.

GUNHILD: (Seized with growing anxiety.) Who has changed you, Erhart?

ERHART: (Struck.) Who? You can't imagine that all on my own -- I--

GUNHILD: No, no, no! You're under some strange power. You're not under your mother's influence anymore; or in your--your foster-mother's either.

ERHART: (With laboured defiance.) _I'm_ under my own power, mother! And my will is my own!(And I'm exercising my own free will!)

BORKMAN: (Advancing towards ERHART.) Then perhaps my time has finally come.

ERHART: (Distantly and with measured politeness.) What do you mean, sir?

GUNHILD: (Scornfully.) Yes, I wonder the same.

BORKMAN: (Continuing undisturbed.) Listen, Erhart--what about going in with your father? A man can't redeem** his own failure through another's achievements. That's just a fairy tale (fable), you've been told down here in this airless room. Even if you lived your life better than all the saints together, it wouldn't help me at all.

ERHART: (With measured respectfulness.) That's very true.

BORKMAN: It is. And it wouldn't help either of us if I just let myself wither away in doing penitence for evermore. All these years I've sustained myself with hopes and dreams. But they're not enough. I'm done with dreaming.

ERHART: (With a slight bow.) And what will--what will you do, sir?

BORKMAN: Repossess** my life,(Redeem myself), that's what. I will begin at the bottom again. It's only through his present and his future that a man can redeem his past. Through work, unrelenting work. In my youth it seemed as important as life itself. Now it's a thousand times more important Erhart. Will you join your father and help me win this new life?

GUNHILD: (Raising her hand warningly.) Don't do it, Erhart!

ELLA: (Warmly.) Yes, do it! Oh, help him, Erhart!

          • START CUT

GUNHILD: That's _you're_ advice? You, the lonely, dying woman.

ELLA: It doesn't matter about me.

GUNHILD: No, just so I'm not the one who takes him from you.

ELLA: Precisely, Gunhild.

          • END CUT

BORKMAN: What do you say, Erhart?

ERHART: (Wrung with pain.) Father, I can't now. It's completely impossible!

BORKMAN: What 'do' you want then?

ERHART: (With a sudden glow.) I'm young! I want my chance to live like other people! I want to live my own life!

ELLA: And you couldn't give up just two or three short months to brighten the last days of an unhappy life?

ERHART: I can't, Aunt Ella, however much I might wish to.

ELLA: Not for someone who loves you beyond words?

ERHART: Aunt Ella... I can't.

GUNHILD: (Looking sharply at him.) And you have no ties to your mother either?

ERHART: I will always love you, mother; but I can't go on living for you alone. This is no life for me.

BORKMAN: Then make your life, your ties, with me Erhart! For life, life means work, Erhart. Let's take life on, and work together!

ERHART: (Passionately.) Yes, but I don't want to work now! Because I'm young! I never realized it before, but now I feel it coursing through my veins! I don't want to work! I want to live live, live!

GUNHILD: (With a cry of divination.) But what will you live for, Erhart?

ERHART: (With sparkling eyes.) For happiness, mother!

GUNHILD: And where do you think you can find 'that'?

ERHART: I've already found it!

(ERHART goes quickly to the hall door and throws it open.)

ERHART: (Calls out.) Fanny, you can come in now!

(MRS. WILTON, in outdoor wraps, appears on the threshold.

GUNHILD: (With uplifted hands.) Mrs. Wilton!

FANNY: (Hesitating a little, with an enquiring glance at ERHART.) May I----?

ERHART: Yes, now you can. I've told them everything.

(MRS. WILTON comes forward into the room. ERHART closes the door behind her. She bows formally to BORKMAN, who returns her bow in silence. A short pause.

scene 16

FANNY: (In a subdued but firm voice.) So the word is out-- I imagine you all think I've brought great unhappiness to this house?

GUNHILD: (Slowly, looking hard at her.) You have crushed what little I had left to live for. (With an outburst.) But this--this is impossible!

FANNY: I understand that it would seem impossible to you, Mrs. Borkman.

GUNHILD: Yes, you must see it yourself; that it's impossible.

FANNY: I'd rather say that it's highly improbable. But nonetheless, it is.

GUNHILD: (Turning.) Are you actually serious about this, Erhart?

ERHART: This means happiness for me, mother--The greatest, lovliest, happiness of life. That's all I can say.

GUNHILD: Oh, you've seduced and bewitched my poor son!

FANNY: (Raising her head proudly.) I've done nothing of the kind.

GUNHILD: Haven't you?

FANNY: No. I've neither seduced nor bewitched him. Erhart came to me of his own free will. And of my own free will I met him half-way.

GUNHILD: (Measuring her scornfully with her eye.) Oh yes! That I can believe.

FANNY: (With self-control.) Mrs. Borkman, there are forces in human life that you seem to know very little about.

GUNHILD: What forces?

FANNY: The forces that compel two people to bind their lives together, indissolubly--and recklessly (without fear of the consequences).

GUNHILD: (With a smile.) I thought you were already indissolubly bound--to another.

FANNY: (Shortly.) Another who deserted me.

GUNHILD: But he's still living, they say.

FANNY: He's dead to me.

ERHART: (Insistently.) Yes, mother. As far as Fanny is concerned, he's dead. And to me he means nothing!

GUNHILD: (Looking sternly at him.) So you know all this-- about this other man.

ERHART: Yes, mother, I know the whole story!

GUNHILD: And you say it makes no difference to you?

ERHART: (With defiant petulance.) I can only tell you that I want happiness! I am young! I want to live, live, live!

GUNHILD: Yes, you're young, Erhart. Too young for all this.

FANNY: (Firmly and earnestly.) Mrs. Borkman, don't think I haven't told him the same thing. I laid out my whole past for him. I've reminded him over and over that I am seven years older than he----

ERHART: (Interrupting.) Oh, please Fanny--I knew that from the start.

FANNY: But nothing made a difference.

GUNHILD: Really? Nothing? Then why didn't you just send him packing? Close your door to him? You should have done that before it was too late!

FANNY: (Looks at her, and says in a low voice.) I could not do that, Mrs. Borkman.

GUNHILD: And why not?

FANNY: Because my happiness was also at stake.

GUNHILD: (Scornfully.) H'm, happiness, happiness----

FANNY: I've never before known what happiness is in life. And I can't turn away from it now, just because it came so late.

GUNHILD: And how long do you think this happiness will last?

ERHART: (Interrupting.) Mother, whether it lasts or not -- it doesn't matter.

GUNHILD: (In anger.) What a blind fool you are! Can't you see where this'll lead you?

ERHART: I don't want to consider the future. I don't want to look around me in any direction; I just want the chance to live my own life for once!

GUNHILD: (With deep pain.) And you call this life, Erhart!

ERHART: Don't you see how lovely she is!

GUNHILD: (Wringing her hands.) And 'this' burden of shame - I'll have to bear as well!

BORKMAN: (At the back, harshly and cuttingly.) Ha--you should be used to that by now, Gunhild!

ELLA: (Imploringly.) John Gabriel!

ERHART: (Similarly.) Father!

GUNHILD: Every day I'll have to endure the sight of my own son in the company of a...-

ERHART: You'll see nothing, mother, rest assured! I'm not staying here.

FANNY: (Quickly and with decision.) We're going away, Mrs. Borkman.

GUNHILD: (Turning pale.) Going away? Together?

FANNY: (Nodding.) Yes, I'm travelling South. I'm taking a young girl with me. And Erhart is coming with us.

GUNHILD: With you--and a young girl?

FANNY: Yes. It's that little Frida Foldal, whose been staying with me. I want her to get away and develop her music.

GUNHILD: So you're taking her with you?

FANNY: Yes; I can't very well send the child down there all on her own.

GUNHILD: (Suppressing a smile.) What do you say to that Erhart?

ERHART: (With some embarrassment, shrugging his shoulders.) Well, mother, if it's the way Fanny wants it----

GUNHILD: (Coldly.) So when does this little entourage set out, if I may ask?

FANNY: We're leaving immediately, tonight. My sleigh is waiting down the road---at the Hinkel's.

GUNHILD: (Looking her from head to foot.) I see! So that's what the party was all about?

FANNY: (Smiling.) Yes, Erhart and I were the only guests. And little Frida, of course.

GUNHILD: And where is she now?

FANNY: She's in the sleigh, waiting.

ERHART: (In painful embarrassment.) Mother, you've got to understand... I wanted to spare you all this--spare everyone.

GUNHILD: (Looks at him, deeply pained.) You would've left me without saying good-bye?

ERHART: Yes, I thought that would be best. Everything was packed and ready. But then you sent for me, and I---- (Holding out his hands to her.) Good-bye, mother.

GUNHILD: (With a gesture of repulsion.) Don't touch me!

ERHART: (Gently.) Is that your last word?

GUNHILD: (Sternly.) Yes.

ERHART: (Turning.) Good-bye to you, then, Aunt Ella.

ELLA: (Pressing his hands.) Good-bye, Erhart! And live your life-- and be happy--as happy as you can.

ERHART: Thanks, Aunt Ella. (Bowing to BORKMAN.) Good-bye, father. (Whispers to MRS. WILTON.) Let's get away, the sooner the better.

FANNY: (In a low voice.) Yes, let's.

GUNHILD: (With a malignant smile.) Mrs. Wilton, do you think it wise to take that young girl with you?

FANNY: (Returning the smile, half ironically, half seriously.) Men are so variable, Mrs. Borkman. Women too. When Erhart is done with me--and I with him--then it'll be good for both of us that he, poor boy, has someone to fall back on.

GUNHILD: And what about you?

FANNY: Oh, I'll take care of myself, don't worry. Good-bye all!

(She bows and goes out by the hall door. ERHART stands for a moment as though wavering; then he turns and follows her.)

scene 17

GUNHILD: (Dropping her folded hands.) Childless.

BORKMAN: (As though awakening to a resolution.) Then out into the storm alone! My hat! My cape! (He goes hastily towards the door.

ELLA: (In terror, stopping him.) John Gabriel, where are you going?

BORKMAN: Out into the storm of life, is what I said. Let me go, Ella!

ELLA: (Holding him back.) No, no, I won't let you out! You're ill. I can see it in your face!

BORKMAN: I said, let me go!

(He tears himself away from her, and goes out by the hall.

scene 18

ELLA: (In the doorway.) Help me hold onto him, Gunhild!

GUNHILD: (Coldly and sharply, standing in the middle of the room.) I'm holding onto no one. No one on this earth. Let them go if they want--all of them! This one and that one. As far--as far as they want. (Suddenly, with a piercing shriek.) Erhart, don't go!

(She rushes with outstretched arms towards the door. ELLA RENTHEIM stops her.

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